The US House of Representatives has given its unanimous approval to legislation updating the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 as it relates to foreign sourced oil spills. The matter now awaits further action in the Senate.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, an original sponsor of OPA 90 and the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2016, which passed the house on April 26, applauded passage in the House.
Young said that with increasing maritime activity in the Arctic, particularly as Russia expands its offshore operations, it is increasingly important to ensure American interests and waters are protected.
“If a vessel transporting oil within Russian waters were to ever suffer an oil spill, ocean currents may very well bring that oil into Alaskan waters,” Young said. “H.R. 1684 would force the responsible party to cover all costs associated with cleanup with US waters and upon nearby shores.”
Current law requires that the responsible party must pay in full for spills occurring within US waters. Foreign oil spills that reach US waters, meanwhile, are paid for through the Oil Liability Trust Fund, which covers $150 million for cleanup and up to $850 million for claims. Any party refusing to do so or denying guilt would face civil penalties imposed by the US Attorney General’s office in district court.
OPA 90, passed in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster of March 1989 in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, also banned single hull tank vessels of 5,000 gross tons or more from US waters from 2010 onward. Prevention measures within OPA 90 included double hull requirements for oil tankers, the use of towing vessels, vessel communication systems, as well as liners for onshore facilities.